Ballin’ for Dahlin: Pre-Lottery 2018 NHL Mock Draft

With the playoffs underway, we look at surging teams like the Winnipeg Jets and the Columbus Blue Jackets and drool over how stacked their lineups are. These teams spent the grand majority of the last five years drafting high and developing their prospects into effective players; players which have become vital to their short-term and long-term success. Drafting and player development have become the make or break of any NHL franchise in the Cap-era. The fall of the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings demonstrates the inevitable toll trading high picks can have on the long-term success of your franchise. Many fans of non-playoff teams have now turned their attention to the 2018 NHL Entry Draft as a beacon of hope for the future success of their franchises. With Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin seen as the uncontested number one pick, many fans are waiting and hoping for good news on April 28th.

Why April 28th? That’s the night of the NHL Draft Lottery. The one night that essentially determines the fate of a franchise. Don’t believe me? Ask the Phoenix Coyotes, who could have drafted Jack Eichel 2nd overall in 2015, had it not been for the Edmonton Oilers winning the lottery that year.  Between 1995 and 2012, the Draft Lottery allowed a team to jump up a maximum of four spots in the draft order, which meant that teams who finished in 6th to 14th place would not be able to land the 1st overall pick. On the flip side, teams could not fall more than one position in their respective draft order, which made the results of the regular season and the notion of ‘tanking’ ever more attractive for teams looking for a quick injection of talented youth. As of last year, not only can all 14 non-playoff teams have a crack at the 1st overall pick (with odds weighted based on their regular season standings), but they can also have a crack at the 2nd and 3rd overall picks too. The NHL introduced this triple lottery in order to limit teams from purposely finishing last in order to draft a specific player. This means that a team can finish last and still wind up picking 4th overall like the Colorado Avalanche did last year.

To get fans a little more acquainted with the top prospects of the 2018 Draft, Scrimmage and Stats will be holding a Lottery Team 2018 NHL mock draft (pre-lottery). For the purposes of this exercise, we will use assume that all teams will stay in their respective positions come Draft Day. We will have a more in-depth, post-lottery mock draft coming in May, so not to worry. Here we go:

1st overall pick: Buffalo Sabres – D Rasmus Dahlin

This year, it seems everyone is Fallin’ for Dahlin, but that’s not because the rest of Dahlin’s peers are not as good. Dahlin projects as a franchise defenseman that could play both left and right (although he prefers and excels on the left side).  He has been playing amongst men for Frolunda in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) for the last two years and was been an absolute joy to watch for Sweden during the last two World Junior Championships. His 7 goals and 20 points in 41 games for Frolunda have put him in elite company for a teenager in Sweden’s professional league. In comparison, Erik Karlsson put up 1 goal in 7 games for the very same Frolunda during their 2007-2008 season and 10 points in 45 games for Frolunda in 2008-2009 as an 18 year-old after being drafted 15th overall by the Ottawa Senators. Not impressed yet? Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom was able to put up 16 points in 39 games while playing professionally at 17 years-old.

Needless to say that Dahlin has the vision, speed, skill and shot to be an elite number 1 defenseman in this league. His possession stats are off the charts, particularly when it pertains to offensive zone entries. His slap shot, albeit not elite, is extremely precise and his wrist shot is deadly from the point. Currently standing at 6’2 and 185lbs, Dahlin has a lot of room to grow and fill in his frame. Although he is more than adequate right now in the defensive end, an added boost in strength will make him a force at both ends of the ice. If Buffalo were to win the lottery and pick him, Dahlin would easily slot on the top pairing with another Rasmus (Ristolainen) and would give the Sabres the back-end stability they have lacked since the 80s.

2nd overall pick: Ottawa Senators – RW Andrei Svechnikov

It’s one thing to regiester an average of a point-per-game in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) as a draft-eligible 17 year-old, but it is another feat entirely to go an entire season scoring an average of a goal-per-game. His 40 goals in 44 games make him the most proven goal scorer in this draft, but that isn’t all Svechnikov can do. His size, at 6’2 190 lbs, makes him a force along the boards and extremely hard to knock off the puck. His speed and willingness to go to the net immediately destroys the “lazy Russian” stereotype, as he has adapted quite well to the North-American game.

Having scored 40 goals, it would be an understatement to say that his shot is great. The last junior player to be able to release a puck that quick is currently the captain of the Edmonton Oilers. His wrist shot is a laser and becomes even more lethal when he uses his speed to cut through the middle and shoot from the slot. Many will see him as a can’t miss first-line right-winger. After watching him play this season, the best comparable to Svechnikov’s style would be an Evgeni Malkin who plays the wing. Ottawa would certainly love to add goal scoring like this after the terrible season they just had.

3rd overall pick: Arizona Coyotes – D Adam Boqvist

What? Why not Filip Zadina or Brady Tkatchuk? Quite simply, because defense is a strong organizational need for the Coyotes. Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Jakob Chychrun are the only homegrown defensemen to have played for the Coyotes this season. Further adding to this problem would be the fact that Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s contract will be coming to an end at the end of the 2018-2019 season and, should OEL chose to leave, the Coyotes don’t have anyone that could step in to replace him. Enter Adam Boqvist. Similarly, to the scouting reports on Oliver Ekman-Larsson in 2009, Boqvist is the prototype for the modern NHL defenseman: Speed, Skill, Shot, Smarts. He can rush a puck, patrol a blueline, pinch when necessary and has the most precise wrist shot out of any defenseman in this entire draft.

Although he may not be the biggest D-man at 5’11 and 172 lbs, Boqvist can defend quite well by the use of his positioning and active stick. He has shown to be an extremely clutch player when called upon, putting up 8 points in 5 games during the Ivan Hlinka tournament this year, and he projects as a top pairing puck-moving defenseman. Just what the doctor ordered for the Arizona Coyotes, who are extremely thin on D after the OEL and Chychrun.

4th overall: Montreal Canadiens – RW Filip Zadina

The Montreal Canadiens have the worst center depth in the NHL, but there is no center in sight in the top-end of this draft. They could opt to go for the ‘character’ player in Brady Tkachuk, but ultimately they choose the Czech forward playing for the Halifax Mooseheads. Filip Zadina came over this year for Halifax and was a force offensively, putting up 82 points in 57 games, and defensively as he led the Mooseheads back to the playoffs. The 6’0 200 lbs winger put up almost identical numbers to that of former Moosehead Jakub Voracek when the latter was a 17 year-old in Halifax. Ironically enough, many have compared Zadina to Voracek since coming over to the NHL, but they note that Zadina is much more defensively responsible than Voracek was.

Although he may be a strong two-way force, don’t think that Montreal is once again going for the safe pick in this case. Quite the opposite, Zadina’s offensive upside (scoring 44 goals in his rookie season) puts him on par with another former Moosehead, Nikolaj Ehlers. Ehlers scored 49 goals in 63 games at the same age, but Ehlers was also playing with a certain Jonathan Drouin as his set-up man. Zadina was more of a one-man show, as most of the talented players on the Mooseheads have yet to be drafted. This makes Zadina’s offensive output even more impressive and would make him a solid choice for the Canadiens at 4th overall.

5th overall pick: Detroit Red Wings – D Quinn Hughes

Since the losses of Niklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski, the Red Wings have desperately tried to find the top-pairing defenseman that would vault them back to the top of the NHL standings. Dahlin would certainly have done that, but the current Michigan University defenseman is a sweet consolation prize. The undersized defenseman (5’10 180lbs) makes up for his lack of physicality with jaw-dropping talent. The first of three brothers, all pegged to be high draft-picks in their respective age groups (remember Jack Hughes everyone), Quinn is an absolute bullet on the ice and can drive a play by himself. Although he may not have the strongest slap shot, his wrist shot is extremely precise and his passing is second to none in this draft.

He plays a very similar game to that of Ryan Ellis, if Ellis had turbo jets attached to his feet. His ability to shake off forecheckers, enter the offensive zone with ease, create space for his teammates with his blistering speed makes him one of the most attractive defensemen in this draft outside of Dahlin. If he were 3 inches taller, he would be going right after Dahlin without a shadow of a doubt. He put up 29 points in 37 games as a freshman for the University of Michigan, which is 4 more points than Zach Werenski put up for Michigan at the same age. Not convinced yet? Hughes was a force for Team USA at the World Junior Championships and was the most dynamic defenseman on the ice whenever the Americans were playing. Detroit would be able to add Hughes to an already speedy core of Larkin, Nyquist and Athanasiou. Speed to burn.

6th overall pick: Vancouver Canucks – F Brady Tkachuk

Brother of Calgary Flames young forward Matthew Tkachuk, Brady is an absolute tank on the ice. His 6’3 and 200 lbs frame make him an easy guy to spot on the ice for amateur scouts. Beyond his obvious physical traits, Brady can play some serious hockey. He scored 31 points in 40 games as a freshman for the University of Boston and was an offensive spark plug for team USA during the World Junior Championships. He projects as a top-6 bruising winger that plays a similar game to his brother Matthew. Drafting a player like Brady would complement a future forwards core that already includes Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, Adam Gaudette and Nikolay Goldobin. Needless to say that Tkachuk would bring the net-front presence and moxy that the Canucks have severely lacked over the years, while chipping in offensively in a significant way.

7th overall: Chicago Blackhawks – D Evan Bouchard

There is perhaps no greater riser in this year’s draft like Evan Bouchard of the OHL’s London Knights. Bouchard was originally ranked in the late teens of this draft and has vaulted up the rankings thanks to his 87 points in 67 games. What is more impressive is that he led his team in scoring by a whopping 27 points in what has been a rare rebuilding year for the hockey player factory that is the London Knights. Bouchard put up a ridiculous 25 goals, mainly due to his speedy and shifty skating ability and his wicked wrist shot.  However, his defensive game requires a little bit of work for him to truly become a top-pairing defenseman going forward. Chicago has shown trust in the Hunter brothers before, when everyone told them Patrick Kane was too small for the NHL, and many believe they will certainly gamble on Bouchard if still available at this spot.

8th overall: New York Rangers – LW Oliver Wahlstrom

Oliver Wahlstrom was put on this planet to do one thing: fill the net with pucks. His 22 goals and 45 points in 26 games for the USNDT put him in elite company in regards to USHL scoring. He has outproduced last year’s 8th overall pick, Casey Mittelstadt and is the first player to score at a near goal-per-game in this league since Jack Eichel did it as a 16-year old. Wahlstrom projects to be a goal-scoring top-6 winger, and his 6’1 205lbs frame is already pro-ready. He looks like the type of player that New York would be able to comfortably slot on their 2nd line next to Mika Zibanejad and produce right out of the gate like Jeff Skinner did in 2010-2011.

9th overall: Edmonton Oilers – D Noah Dobson

If you’re looking for an all-around defenseman who can score, pass, hit and defend, well then Noah Dobson is your guy. The 6’3 180 lbs native of P.E.I. is far from your average bad potato joke, he is an absolute force on the back-end for the Acadie-Bathurst Titans. His 69 points in 63 games (17 goals) display his penchant for jumping up in the rush as the fourth man and hammering home his lethal wrist shot or his precise slapper. His presence on a powerplay resembles that of Shea Weber, as his feared slapshot forces teams to cover him closely and leave his teammates with more room to work with.  He is certainly above average for his age group on the defensive end, with many scouts saying that he could be even better if he were to use his size more often. Dobson projects as a top 2 defenseman that could man the blueline for the Oilers for years to come and would complement Klefbom and Nurse on a young D.

10th overall: New York Islanders – RW Joel Farabee

The third member of the unstoppable USNDT line (Jack Hughes, Oliver Wahlstrom and Farabee), Joel possesses the two-way game to be an effective two-presence on any top-6 in the NHL. His speed, his tenacity and his ability to position himself on the ice make him a likely candidate for a fast tracked career to the NHL. If he had put up similar numbers in the United Stated Hockey League (USHL) without the help of Wahlstrom or Hughes, he would most certainly be in the top-3 discussion, but many scouts are still not sold on his offense. His style of play reminds many of Filip Forsberg, but he does not possess the wrister of Forsberg on the rush. Needless to say, Farabee would most certainly add to the growing prospect pool of the New York Islanders and would constitute as a safe, yet highly rewarding, pick.

11th overall: Carolina Hurricanes – C Joseph Veleno

The first ever exceptional player to come out of the QMJHL has been plagued over the last year due to local fans over-hyping his potential when he was 15 and drafted first overall in the QMJHL amateur draft three years ago. Although Veleno has not been bad, his offensive output has left many wondering why he was given exceptional status at all. Veleno scored near a point-per-game last year for the Saint John Sea Dogs (40 pts in 45 games), and was at a point-per-game during the 2017-2018 season prior to being traded to the Drummondville Voltigeurs (31 pts in 31 games). However, once he was given prime minutes and quality line mates, his offensive production increased dramatically, as he put up 48 points in the remaining 33 games for the Voltigeurs. His scoring peak, along with his exceptional two-way game, has put Veleno back on the radar for teams looking for a potential top-6 center. Although many assume he will top out as a 2nd line center, I believe Veleno is now being undervalued because of his past and would be a top-10 talent in this draft had he not been an exceptional player in the first place. He would easily slot behind Victor Rask on the second line for Carolina, adding to their already strong and young forward corps.

12th overall: New York Islanders (Via Calgary Flames) – D Ty Smith

Ty Smith is an absolute beast. He put up 73 points (including a whopping 59 assissts) for the Spokane Chiefs in 69 games this season. He has the speed, the skating stride, shot and hockey IQ to be a very valuable top-4 D. Some scouts even have him penciled into the top-10 of this draft and see him as a top-2 defensemen if all goes right. The only problem with Ty Smith for amateur scouts, which is evidently a theme in this draft, is his lack of size. The 5’10 176 lbs rearguard is part of the new wave of defensemen who defend by excellent puck possession and ridiculous first passes. Ty Smith had the highest amount of offensive zone entries for any Western Hockey League (WHL) defenseman and this will be very valuable for a team like the New York Islanders. They do have Nick Leddy, Ryan Pulock and others right now providing good offense for the Islanders, but Smith would be able to use his speed and smarts to tighten up their penchant for risky plays. Although it will most likely take him a year or two to make the NHL, I do see Ty Smith being a key figure for Canada during the World Juniors this December.

13th overall: Dallas Stars – C Barret Hayton

Hayton is the old school prototype for a top-6 center. Two-way, smart, stocky and blessed with a solid wrist shot. Hayton was a complimentary player this year for the powerhouse Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, finishing 6th in team scoring with 60 points in 63 games. With the Dallas Stars glaring need for an all-around top-6 center to replace either the aging Jason Spezza or often-ailing Martin Hanzal , Hayton would be able to develop in the OHL for the next two years and eventually slot in behind Seguin in Dallas’ top-6. Although Hayton is seen as a great two-way player and a safe bet to make the NHL, many will question his offensive output at the pro-level, as his junior team is the most statistically stacked roster of the entire CHL. Hayton is certainly worth the gamble and should answer many of his doubters as early as next year.

14th overall: Philadelphia Flyers (St-Louis Blues) – C/LW Jesperi Kotkaniemi

The Flyers have one of the best defensive prospect pools in the NHL, and, although they picked center Nolan Patrick 2nd overall last year, we see them going back to drafting a center in this draft with Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The 6’2 190lbs center is seen by many as a solid two-way center, in the same mold as Barret Hayton, but with a stronger penchant for offensive risk. Although many do see him eventually converting to left-wing at the NHL level (converting centers to wingers is what the Flyers do best), Jesperi would complement the Flyers’ top-6 once Wayne Simmonds leaves, either via trade or free-agency. His physical game is not exactly his forte, but he does use his body well for puck protection. The Flyers forward corps would add another skilled big body to their already deep lineup for years to come.

15th overall: Florida Panthers – D Bode Wilde

The first time I saw this 6’2 190 lbs defenseman play, the first thought that came to my mind was “wow, I feel like I’m watching a young Ryan McDonaugh”. Many scouts have compared the young Wilde to McDonaugh due to his great size and skating. Wilde could wind up being the top-4 defenseman that Florida would require once Keith Yandle begins to slow down in the next 2 years. Many see him having top-pairing potential due to his physical gifts, but he needs to improve his first pass and positioning to truly thrive at the pro level.

16th overall: Colorado Avalanche – C Isaac Lundestrom

Due to the Matt Duchene trade and the fact that Carl Soderberg is not getting any younger, the Avalanche have a long-term hole on the 2nd line at the center position. Make way for Isaac Lundestrom. The quick and creative pivot out of the SHL has been turning heads the last year due to his unrelenting work ethic and incredible vision. Putting up 15 points in 42 games for Lulea HF, Lundestrom solidified his place in the first round of this year’s draft and has drawn comparisons to Swedish hockey legend Henrik Zetterberg. Unlike Tyson Jost, who has been used on the wing since joining the Avalanche, Lundestrom is projected to be a full-time center in the NHL and would mesh well with the speed and skill of the young Colorado roster.

That’s it for the 2018 Pre-Lottery Mock Draft, but stay tuned for our post-lottery mock draft in the next few weeks to get a clearer idea of where your favourite team will be picking and who they may be targeting come June 22nd in Dallas.